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J Neurosci. 2013 Feb 27;33(9):4181-91. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4423-12.2013.

Layer-specific experience-dependent rewiring of thalamocortical circuits.

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  • 1Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, and Program in Neuroscience, State University of New York (SUNY)-Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794, USA.


Thalamocortical circuits are central to sensory and cognitive processing. Recent work suggests that the thalamocortical inputs onto L4 and L6, the main input layers of neocortex, are activated differently by visual stimulation. Whether these differences depend on layer-specific organization of thalamocortical circuits; or on specific properties of synapses onto receiving neurons is unknown. Here we combined optogenetic stimulation of afferents from the visual thalamus and paired recording electrophysiology in L4 and L6 of rat primary visual cortex to determine the organization and plasticity of thalamocortical synapses. We show that thalamocortical inputs onto L4 and L6 differ in synaptic dynamics and sensitivity to visual drive. We also demonstrate that the two layers differ in the organization of thalamocortical and recurrent intracortical connectivity. In L4, a significantly larger proportion of excitatory neurons responded to light activation of thalamocortical terminal fields than in L6. The local microcircuit in L4 showed a higher degree of recurrent connectivity between excitatory neurons than the microcircuit in L6. In addition, L4 recurrently connected neurons were driven by thalamocortical inputs of similar magnitude indicating the presence of local subnetworks that may be activated by the same axonal projection. Finally, brief manipulation of visual drive reduced the amplitude of light-evoked thalamocortical synaptic currents selectively onto L4. These data are the first direct indication that thalamocortical circuits onto L4 and L6 support different aspects of cortical function through layer-specific synaptic organization and plasticity.

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